The last national census was in 1998 and we are now eight years overdue for another. A host of political considerations under the all-enveloping cloak of ‘sensitivity’ have delayed and delayed the census for Pakistan, and it now appears that despite being far advanced in terms of planning, the upcoming census, scheduled for next month, is going to be delayed yet again. Broadly, the problems this time can be divided into three. Firstly, the military is unwilling and in real terms probably unable to spare the number of men it would take to ensure the security of those who will actually be conducting the census. Secondly, the provinces outside of Punjab are crying ‘foul’ — they have not been adequately consulted if indeed they have been consulted at all as to a range of census-related issues, and the census commission that oversees the entire process is heavily loaded in favour of Punjab. Third, refugees.
None of the above is susceptible to an early or quick resolution, and the deadline set for the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to come up with a solution in three days is as unrealistic as the last three-day deadline he gave them — two weeks ago. Now the matter is going to be placed before the Council of Common Interests, which is meeting on February 29.
The Afghan refugees are going nowhere, at least not in the numbers to satisfy Balochistan that has called for the cancelling of the census until they are repatriated. The army is not going to magically produce at least double the 100,000 it is willing to commit and the Punjab-centric government is ever-unwilling to give equity to the rest of the nation, this to the detriment of everybody. There is a competency deficit that feeds each of these three elements creating a perfect storm of spineless mediocrity when it comes to the big jobs, and jobs do not get much bigger than the census. It is projected that there will be 300 million of us by 2050 — but we will never know for sure unless there is a headcount conducted, something that at the moment appears to be a difficult prospect to carry out.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2016.